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December 06. 2013 8:22PM

Missing Conway teenager remains in 'grave' danger


Associate Attorney General Jane Young speaks at a press conference about developments in the search for missing Conway teen Abigail Hernandez at the Justice Building in Concord on Friday. Also pictured is Hernandez's mother, Zenya, and sister, Sarah. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — A letter investigators believe Conway teen Abigail Hernandez wrote her mother is a key piece of evidence that first gave law enforcers hope, but so far has not led them any closer to locating the missing 15-year-old who they say is in "grave" danger.

"We are concerned for her safety. She is not alone out there. She has someone out there helping her," New Hampshire Associate Attorney General Jane E. Young said Friday of the Kennett High School freshman who disappeared Oct. 9.

She warned any "good samaritan" against harboring the teen in a misguided attempt to help her and appealed again to the public to contact police if they notice a teenaged girl living among them recently.

"Look at your neighbors. Look at your grocery store. Look at your church. Is there somebody who you haven't seen before? We need your help and we need the public's help to be vigilant," Young said at a press briefing held at the Attorney General's office in Concord with Abigail's mother, Zenya, and older sister, Sarah, by her side.

Noting the 15-year-old has no independent financial means, FBI Special Agent Kieran Ramsey said "our worst fear right now is that, though she could have left willingly, someone may now be coercing her or someone may be manipulating her."

The letter was dated Oct. 22, postmarked Oct 23 and received by Abigail's mother in Conway on Nov. 6, She brought it to investigators' attention that day, Young said.

Investigators did not initially disclose the letter because they first needed to run tests on it — including DNA testing, handwriting and fingerprint analysis, — to confirm its authenticity, she said.

"We believe, in fact, it was written by Abigail and it was sent to her mother," Young said. "This was a critical lead...It was one of the most tangible leads we've had in the investigation."

She would not say where the letter had been postmarked, what it said or whether it was written by hand. She noted "the tone" of the letter is consistent with one Abby uses. They also said they have accounted for the delay in the letter being postmarked and Abigail's mother receiving it, but would not disclose it.

Authorities kept the letter from the public so they could pursue all leads and to avoid copy cat letters that would distract investigators, she said.

"It gave us hope," Ramsey said of the letter. "We have not seen anything like that in any other previous investigation."

After running down all leads the letter offered, investigators hit "a brick wall," Ramsey said. As word of the letter become known in the community and among the media, law enforcers called a media conference today to confirm its existence and dispel rumors, he said.

Photographs of a necklace with a blue-stone that Abigail often wore and had sentimental value to her also was displayed. A photo of a white purse with a brown leather-like shoulder strap and trim also was shown. Authorities said Abigail often carried the purse and it may have been inside a larger bag she is seen holding in pictures distributed since she disappeared.

Conway Police Chief Edward K. Wagner urged the public to report anything they know or saw or see to police immediately, noting several pieces of information did not come to police attention until several weeks after Abigail disappeared. He said that all information is essential no matter how insignificant it may seem or whether one would suspect police already know about it.

Authorities note that Abigail not only has no known means of supporting herself, but she also wasn't wearing clothes suitable for winter when she disappeared and she lacks any known access to food or shelter.

"We're still classifying this as a missing person's case. We have grave concerns for her safety," Young said.

Asked whether Abigail has run away before, Young said "that is not a characteristic that we have seen before."

Ramsey could not say if investigators believe Abigail is in the area. But he noted the recent Cleveland, Ohio, case in which three women kidnapped as teens escaped after a decade in captivity. All were found within 25 miles of where they lived, he said.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com


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